Fleeing, but to What?: Iraqi Armenians face difficulties making a new home
By Zhanna Alexanyan
Sept 24, 2004
Armenians fleeing Irag to their motherland leave behind what had been a
unified community for the uncertainty of life as a “refugee”.
“Armenians need at least one to two years of support until they can start
life themselves in Armenia,” says the Deputy Head of the Iraqi Armenians
Union Yervand Minasyan. Thought it is their official designation, he doesn’t
agree with calling the Iraqi-Armenians “refugees”.
The Magarayans fled to Armenia two months ago.
”Armenians are not refugees as Armenians come back, they return to their
homeland,” he says.
By any label, however, Minasyan says the newly arrived are also trying to be
“People who came to Armenia during this year, are looking for ways and
possibilities of leaving this place again, despite our efforts to persuade
them to settle in their homeland,” says Minasyan, who himself fled Iraq for
Armenia more than 30 years ago.
Since war broke out, about 200 Iraqi Armenians have emigrated to Armenia.
Four families have recently returned, choosing life in a war zone over life
as a refugee.
This summer Minasyan organized meetings to try to unite the community here.
”Many Armenians in Baghdad know each other,” Minasyan says “but they don’t
know that they are already in Armenia. The Emigration Committee used to
function before. It was dealing with issues of people who returned to their
native land. I think that committee must be created again.”
Before the war the community of Iraqi Armenians (about 25,000) was united.
There were active relations with the homeland, different meetings were
organized and relations with other nations were discussed.
But now . . .
”Armenians face terrible days there,” Minasyan says. “Churches are mainly
closed. There’s only one small church functioning, however, Armenians don’t
gather there as they don’t want to become a target for acts of terror.
“The Armenians are horror-stricken. The majority of them wishes to go to
Armenia. Some of them managed to sell their houses, others simply left their
houses and went to Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Most of the Iraqi Armenians
are now in these countries. They have no visas for coming here.”
The Head of the Department on Migration and Refugees, Gagik Yeganyan ,admits
that necessary assistance is not rendered to Iraqi Armenians.
”It costs money to establish people and in case of hundreds of people the
government has no possibility like that simply for the reason that it cannot
provide for its citizens,” Yeganyan says. “The important thing is the
question concerning the right for residence and the fact that they will not
be sent back against their will.”
In 2003 the Government of Armenia adopted a special resolution concerning
settlement of Iraqi Armenians in Armenia. The plan was to place them in
hotels in Sevan and Vanadzor. But those hotels were privatized, so the
Department on Migration and Refugees gave them certificates of asylum
seekers for three months and after that refugees were provided with one-year
certificate of provisional asylum.
The neediest refugees are provided asylum for three months in a special
quarter, but it has only 10 beds. Most must fend for themselves to find
accommodations, and most have no jobs.
”They rent an apartment for $120-$150 and as they don’t get any help they
become desperate and take other measures looking for different ways for
leaving Armenia,” Minasyan says. “They have to do so as no attention is paid
to them and they don’t get state care. Our organization can only render
moral assistance to these families.”
Iraqi Armenians are getting to Armenia mainly through Syria where they are
given entry visas.
”With the help of our embassy in Syria special conditions and visa regime
were created so that Armenians could go to Armenia,” says Press Secretary
of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, Hamlet Gasparyan.
In Iraq, insurgents warned the Margaryans they’d be harmed if they met again
with US soldiers.
”Why are they coming here?” asks Minasyan. “How can a family, which pays
$150 of rent and has no work, live in Armenia? They are given only one
document of one-year temporary residence. During that one year they are
trying to find jobs but they cannot, then they call to their relatives
living abroad asking for help. The treatment is inhuman here.”
Majority of Iraqi Armenians are artisans such as jewelers, and specialists
of Arabic language. Minasyan says that they are not provided with
opportunities to use their abilities and they are not supported.
”Employers dictate their terms, which is not physically possible to
realize,” Minasyan charges. Those who have jobs are working since morning
till night. People cannot work for 16 hours without having a rest. And if
someone wants to create his small business he cannot as both tax inspection
and district ”authorities” takes money from them. Law doesn’t function.”
Last year discussions were held with Minister of Foreign Affairs Vardan
Oskanian over issues of settlement.
”They can even be sent to Karabakh. There are many free houses there and
Iraqi Armenians themselves agree to go there, however, nothing has been
done,” says Minasyan.
The nine-member Margaryan family is among those who have fled the war to
Armenia. When they arrived four months ago, the were given a temporary
residence by the immigration services. Now they must find another place, as
their time for staying there has expired.
”Where should we go? What are we going to do? We don’t know,” says mother
of the family Jenivil Margaryan. “The boys go and look for jobs but they
don’t find any.”
This family doesn’t complain about the times of prewar Iraq. Authorities
were not against Armenians those days.
”We had two houses in Baghdad. One was burnt by Muslims, and we had to sell
the second one. We had two cars and a big workshop, however, we couldn’t
sell them. We had to leave everything and come here as there was a threat
not only to our lives but also my grandchildren could be kidnapped,” says
father of the family Aram Margaryan.
For a chance meeting with US soldiers they were warned by Arabs that next
time they will be killed for that. The Margaryans are anxious about Armenia’s
intentions to send troops to Iraq.
”It could be dangerous for Armenian community,” says Aram Margaryan. “They
don’t tolerate Christians anymore.
“In Baghdad you cannot go outside after 6-7 o’clock. If someone gets sick
then he has to die at home as it is impossible to get to hospital. It is a
normal thing to kidnap boys and girls. Now it is extremely dangerous to stay
there. We could leave for Germany or any other European country but we
preferred to go to our homeland.”
They want to settle in Armenia, but have no prospects.
”We just want to have jobs and our own place to live. And if we get that
then we won’t have any other problems. And we will finally settle down in
our homeland,” Aram Margaryan says